Clinical Center News
April / May 2023

Hospital namesake ended Chinese exclusion

May is Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
May is Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Asian American students
Miss April Lou (center), teacher at Public School 1, Manhattan, with six Chinese children, recent arrivals from Hong Kong and Formosa, who are holding up placards giving his or her Chinese name (both in ideographs and in transliteration) and the name to be entered upon the official school records.
Credit: Library of Congress, 1964.

former legislator Warren Magnuson
Rep. Warren G. Magnuson (D-Wash.) smiles in his Washington office Oct. 19, 1943 after receiving a citation as a member of the staff of the U.S. Aircraft Carrier Enterprise as a Lt. Commander. He was placed on the inactive list when President Roosevelt ordered members of Congress should not be permitted to serve in the Armed Forces.
Credit: public domain AP photo.


Former legislator Warren G. Magnuson has many connections to the NIH. In 1937, he sponsored legislation to establish the National Cancer Institute. And his name is appended to the Warren G. Magnuson Clinical Center, which opened in 1953 and has hosted hundreds of thousands of patients since.

But the former senator and representative from the state of Washington from 1937-1981 is also tied to Americans of Asian heritage through his repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Passed by Congress in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act provided an absolute 10-year ban on Chinese laborers and effectively prevented people of Chinese descent from immigrating to the United States.

The legislation also placed new requirements on people of Chinese descent who were already in the country, removing the possibility of U.S. citizenship and making it difficult to return to America if they left the country.

Congress extended the legislation when it expired in 1892 and made it permanent in 1902, adding new restrictions that requiring Chinese residents to register and obtain a certificate of residence. Those who failed to do so faced deportation.

Magnuson sponsored the Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act of 1943 (commonly called the Magnuson Act) and Congress repealed the discriminatory exclusion laws and permitted some Chinese immigrants already residing in the country to become naturalized citizens.

"They will now say that China is now on the same basis in the minds and hearts and spirit of the American people as all other countries," said Magnuson, in testimony before the House of Representatives' Committee on Immigration and Naturalization in May 1943.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt supported the measure and signed the repeal into law, saying in a letter to Congress that the legislation corrected the "historic mistake" of Chinese exclusion.

"It is with particular pride and pleasure that I have today signed the bill repealing the Chinese Exclusion Laws. The Chinese people, I am sure, will take pleasure in knowing that this represents a manifestation on the part of the American people of their affection and regard," said Roosevelt after signing the legislation in December 1943.

The legislation opened up quota-based immigration, with 105 people with Chinese backgrounds allowed to apply for citizenship each year.

Congress finally ended all quotas on immigrants based on their national origins when it passed the Immigration Act of 1965.

- Donovan Kuehn with special thanks to Susan Wong for suggesting this story

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